Phoenix— The number of public district-run charter schools in Arizona is increasing at an unprecedented rate as many districts try to boost their budgets without offering students new educational options, a forthcoming report by the Goldwater Institute reveals.
Twenty traditional public school districts opened 59 charter schools this year and gained access to a combined $33 million a year increase in state funds, mostly by turning their traditional public schools into charters. State budget analysts warn this places additional pressure on Arizona’s tax-supported general fund.
Several districts declared the switch to charters will have no effect on the schools’ operations, according to Goldwater Institute investigative reporter Emily Gersema. This defies the purpose of Arizona’s charter school law: to offer students educational choices that could improve academic achievement.
Paradise Valley Unified School District opened the most charter schools of any district in Arizona this year, converting 11 traditional public schools into charters. The district projected the conversions would net an additional $7.2 million in annual state aid. District officials told parents in online fact sheets that nothing would change at the schools.
The trend concerns Sen. Kimberly Yee (R-Phoenix), chairwoman of the Arizona Senate Education Committee.
“You can't just slap a new charter title on a school and keep doing what you were doing inside that school and call that a conversion,” said Yee, who is calling for legislative action.
“We need greater oversight and more eyes on the management of a district when it decides to convert a dozen of their schools at a time to charter schools,” Yee said. “The public needs to ask: Is this a real charter school change or just the same old school that now receives $1,000 more per student because it renamed itself a charter?"
Locally in Prescott Valley
This summer, Humboldt Unified School District in Prescott Valley decided to convert 5 of their school to charter schools, citing an increase in funding, and an opportunity to offer both expanded and signature programs at each location.
In their District-Sponsored Charter School Questions & Answers page, HUSD claims,"The chartering of district schools will enable HUSD to offer market-driven, signature programs. With 21.8% cuts over the last five years, HUSD has had to look at alternative ways to support students while limiting the impact on the local patrons."
Because the charter school students aren't recognized or counted in the funding formula for new schools, it will affect their ability to obtain funds from the state. To counter this issue, HUSD explains, "To be prudent, the district would set aside dollars generated by the charter schools each year for the future capital needs of the district... If the District identified its need for additional space/buildings it could decide to call for an election."